The best Italian – bar none – on Merseyside is actually in a tiny village on the Wirral. Irby’s Da Piero takes rustic Italian cooking (especially Sicilian) and elevates it to a fine art, within its clean, simple interior.
Run by husband-and-wife team Dawn and Piero Di Bella (with help from son Alan), Da Piero is small – and popular. The only times we’ve been we’ve called up on the off-chance there’s been a cancellation – and the Gods of food has delivered. Still, with only a couple of dozen covers you’d be better off booking.
There’s not a great deal to choose from – as with the best, authentic Italians – though there are options for vegetarians and vegans. Little will surprise either. These are staples; familiar Italian dishes. Perhaps that’s the real genius of Da Piero. Nothing is overcomplicated and the food – much of the ingredients are imported from Sicily – is honed to perfection.
Melanzane alla Parmigiana (£8.90) – aubergine bake with mozarella and parmesan – is a substantial and flavoursome dish but it’s the Nido di Gamberi di Fiume (£7.90), crayfish tails with rocket in a dressing of oil, garlic, lemon and chilli that mark out Da Piero as something special.
Da Piero is, perhaps, not the best place to eat for vegetarian mains. There are three pasta dishes – all under ten pounds – for non-meat eaters but the pasta is freshly made and well-judged; just the right side of al dente.
We always go for some side dishes: some creamed potatoes with parmesan (£3.90) and the intriguing Broccoli al Vino Rosso (£5.90) – broccoli ‘drowned’ in red wine, having been soaked in extra virgin olive oil. A veggie could do far worse than select a few of the side dishes.
Our main is Cotolette della Nonna Emma (£16.50), two beef escalopes coated in herby breadcrumbs, accompanied by a wedge of lemon and rocket. The beef is superb and just needs a little encouragement from the lemon and the herbs in the breadcrumbs to bring it alive. It’s so simple, yet so tasty.
Flavours are what Da Piero is all about; from the freshness of the ingredients to their clever combinations.